Vv Magazine’s Libby Roach brings a critical eye (and experienced palate) to the Winterlicious 2015 offerings, weeding out the duds so that you don’t waste your Winterlicious budget on forgettable experiences. Here are her Winterlicious restaurants to skip in 2015.
Winterlicious, and it’s seasonally-gifted sibling Summerlicious began in 2003 after SARS imploded the tourism industry and infected our city with a terrible illness that killed many, and put us in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons (except Mick Jagger, cause that part was pretty okay).
What started with a solid idea by the city with a well curated list of 35 of Toronto’s best restaurants has now exploded to over 200. While claiming to be picky, the officials running this program have now created a curiously bloated list that leaves even the most seasoned foodies collectively meh-ing.
Some restaurants find it difficult to compete for your Winterlicious budget against the likes of Auberge du Pommier, Canoe, Momofuku(s) (just to name a few) and shouldn’t be lumped into one murky cauldron of prix fixe gluttony. The $1150.00 participation fee might not be a big deal for some of these places but, for others, it’s their entire annual marketing budget. The whole idea is motivate us to get out and try places you wouldn’t normally venture, putting Toronto’s best in the spotlight for not only us to discover, but tourists too.
With that in mind, here’s a list of places to skip for Winterlicious 2015.
Their prix fixe comes in at a slender $18.00 for lunch or $25.00 for dinner with a staggering number of options, but their tagline of ‘Authentic Italian cuisine and magnificent landscape captures the charm and savories of Italy as well as our great city’ seems like a bit of a stretch. File this one under convenience and save this spot for a quick meal (especially if you have kids in tow) before a Leafs/Raptors/Auto Show outing.
This American import has been open here in Canadaland for a few years now at Shops at Don Mills and Lawrence. While their Chicken Lettuce Wraps are decent, the rest is faux-Chinese food from a company with origins in Arizona. What they are clearly out to lunch on is that Toronto has some of the BEST Chinese food for much cheaper.
Trio Restaurant and Bar
Trio is buried in the Novotel hotel on a parcel of land attached to North York Public Library (or to quote their Winterlicious description ‘Located in the cosmopolitan district of Toronto’s North York’). Their menu curiously has Indian, Italian, and Mediterranean all at once — jack of all trades, master of none.
Gossip, located by Music nightclub on CNE grounds is a totally under the radar restaurant which is pretty surprising considering their chef is a former TV host of Licence to Grill, Rob Rainford. Their prix fixe offers the usual fish/meat/veg options, but where Gossip loses traction is operating like a nightclub/lounge/bar and charging the highest $45.00 prix fixe price. Would you pay as much for a meal here (and experience) as you would at Canoe?
Toula Restaurant and Bar
Operating out of the Westin Harbour Castle on the 38th floor affords lovely lake views but you’re better off coming here for the scenery and some cocktails. This restaurant has long be panned for their sloppy service and average plates, especially during Winterlicious.
Rogers Centre hosts both the Jays and Arriba restaurant, located inside the Renaissance Hotel. Mostly known for the breakfast buffet, Arriba functions as a great place to scoff down eggs and coffee on your way out of town or as Jays fans looking for a primo spot to watch the game from. Stick to your game plan and come back when the boys are back in town.
Having been open for over 20 years near St Lawrence Market means clearly Hot House knows what they are doing: making a reliable brunch that Torontonians have enjoyed for decades. Stick to your breakfast roots (and tasty omelette station).
While their $25.oo dinner menu features some pretty decent options, the real draw to come here for their (almost) nightly live music, featuring salsa, karaoke, R&B and, of course, jazz music showcasing some great local talent and tipping a few martinis from their list of over 15 concoctions.
The award for most lacklustre Winterlicous 2015 restaurant has to go to the corporate overlords at Moxie’s. While only one of their locations can participate (Yonge and Sheppard), this uninspired franchise with locations everywhere isn’t doing anything different for their prix fixe (other than price). If you can go year round, why bother for Winterlicious?
Fred’s Not Here
This stretch of King West is slowly coming around to more favourable options like Luma and Parlor Foods Co but the rest is long overdue for an overhaul, including this spot, smack in the middle of the theatre district. Fred’s offers an okay prix fixe menu but considering there’s a two-course dinner for $29.99 year round, save this one for thrifty pre-theatre noshing.
Winterlicious 2015’s goal of getting us out of the house, patronizing these restaurants, and feeding into the local economy during slump season is a total success. But with a little retooling everyone would benefit. Many people avoid Winterlicious altogether, regaling tales of being treated like a pauper, scurried from hostess stand to table and out as fast as possible. Servers wince at tables of fourtops ordering water (with lemon, natch) and kitchen staff try to accommodate substitutions on a set menu that is practically carved in stone for obvious reasons.
Licious used to be a stimulating, a harried competition against your friends to see how many places you could try out in two weeks. With a nudge in the right direction (here our our top 25 Winterlicious 2015 picks), it could be exciting again. Until then, I’ll be hibernating waiting for this winter storm to blow over.
What have been some of your favourite Winterlicious 2015 restaurants so far? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.